Feeling underappreciated? Join the Akatsuki!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Note: Because the stories I've come across that showed the girls being called weak running off to the Akatsuki were kind of painful. I also am fully aware that Ino and Sakura are valued by their teammates and would not actually betray their village so easily, so don't worry. Also, I know that most of these people haven't heard of the Akatsuki in part one, but oh well.

I REPEAT: THIS IS NOT A BASHING STORY. It just has certain people falling victim to an idiot plot. If you think it has people acting out of character...well, how in character is it that everyone is just so mean to the girls that they think the best option is to leave and join the Akatsuki?

Sakura eyed her non-traitorous teammate steadily. "Don't worry, Naruto. I swear to you that next time you face Sasuke and try to bring him back, you won't do it alone!"

"That's a good idea," Naruto agreed readily enough. "I mean, even if I really want a rematch, should I lose again I don't want Sasuke just up and leaving. Again. And if he has people with him when I happen to find him, having people with me would be helpful in clearing my path to Sasuke."

"Yes, backup is always a good idea," Sakura admitted, "but I was actually talking about me."

"What?" Naruto stared at her. "Are you sure that's such a good idea?"

"And why wouldn't it be?" Sakura demanded, highly affronted.

"Well, I just don't want you to get hurt, Sakura-chan," Naruto told her earnestly. "And who knows what kind of things that snake bastard is telling Sasuke! Facing him again is going to be harder than anything I've ever done."

"I'm not helpless you know!" Sakura insisted. "And Tsunade-sama has agreed to take me on as her apprentice. The Hokage herself would not agree to do that if she didn't see my potential."

"True," Naruto acknowledged. "Baa-chan wouldn't waste her time if she thought you were hopeless and she's pretty awesome, but…well…" he trailed off.

"But what?" Sakura demanded.

"I know I'm stuck in the hospital for a few more days and then Ero-Sennin insists on giving me a little extra training but I kind of want to find Sasuke before Orochimaru has years to take Sasuke's admittedly damaged psyche and turn him into an full-fledged psychopath," Naruto declared.

"That's what I want, too," Sakura assured him. "So what's the problem?"

"I said I want to face Sasuke again 'soon', Sakura," Naruto said awkwardly.

"What are you saying?" Sakura asked suspiciously.

Naruto looked uncomfortable. "You know I really like you, right Sakura-chan?"

"I am well aware of that," Sakura confirmed.

"And it's not like I don't think you're awesome, because I do!" Naruto continued.

"You're stalling," Sakura accused.

Naruto closed his eyes. "During our first real mission to Wave you just stood around watching and holding a kunai while Sasuke and I fought Haku and Kakashi-sensei took on Zabuza."

"Somehow had to protect Tazuna!" Sakura defended.

"I suppose so," Naruto agreed. "But Kakashi was keeping Zabuza too busy to go after him and Haku was more than occupied by Sasuke and I. It would make more sense that since they weren't going for a surprise assassination and engaging us directly that they would kill or incapacitate us and THEN go after him. And while you were just standing around staring, Sasuke almost died. He WOULD have died if Haku hadn't decided not to kill us."

"That mission was practically a lifetime ago!" Sakura claimed. "It was our first real mission and we've all come such a long way since then. You and Sasuke didn't even start respecting each other until then and look at you now: best friends."

"Lucky me," Naruto mumbled. "Then there was the first stage of the Chuunin Exams – which you almost didn't even agree to take."

"It would have been better if I hadn't as Sasuke wouldn't have caught Orochimaru's attention then," Sakura shot back.

"True," Naruto allowed. "But seriously, during the written exam? You wanted to quit at the first sign of trouble!"

"How would you know?" Sakura asked. "You were in front of me!"

"Sasuke told me," Naruto replied. "And if that fight with Sasuke at the Valley of the End taught me anything – besides that we really should have had an all-out fight long before then – it was that Sasuke's got a lot of issues and there is going to be many, many signs of trouble along the way. I don't want to have to give an inspiring speech at each of them."

"You wouldn't," Sakura countered. "And I had a lot of personal growth starting in the second stage so if I were in that same situation today, there's no way I'd quit."

"Obviously not since you know the trick," Naruto responded automatically. At Sakura's glare, he held up his hands appeasingly, "Easy, Sakura, I know what you meant. And hitting bedridden hospital patients is rather uncouth, just so you know. Although, about the second stage…never mind."

"No, tell me!" Sakura insisted.

"Sasuke and I were incapacitated after facing Orochimaru and you got attacked by three superior foes from Oto. A perfect opportunity to prove yourself or at least try to," Naruto told her. "Instead you got an impromptu haircut, set a trap that didn't work, and relied on Bushy Brows to save you."

"Hey, it was three on one and if Lee's teammates hadn't come by he probably would have died, too," Sakura pointed out.

"But still…I didn't hear about you actually doing anything," Naruto reiterated. "And then in the prelim you were totally outmatched by Ino of all people and-"

"What do you mean 'Ino of all people'?" Sakura interrupted. "You know she's my rival. It's just like you and Sasuke."

"Except I think that Sasuke would rather kill himself than attempt to seduce Neji into not attacking them, which Shikamaru said was Ino's plan," Naruto countered. "And the only reason you didn't lose was because apparently you're crazy and have two personalities. Then once you were both out of chakra, you had a rather lame and anticlimactic double-knockout like a couple of civilians."

"I did some training in the month between the exams and am continuing to work hard with Tsunade-sama," Sakura said, looking a little embarrassed. Granted, her loss hadn't been as humiliating as Kiba's, but it still wasn't one of her prouder moments.

"During the fight with Gaara during the invasion, you were more of a liability than Sasuke," Naruto said flatly. "And he could barely move because of that stupid curse seal of his getting out of control. And then the night Sasuke left he had to almost kill me in order to get past me but he apparently took you out in one blow."

"I wasn't expecting it!" Sakura tried to defend herself.

Naruto shook his head at her. "You knew he wanted to leave and he knew you wanted him to stay. How could you not see that coming? Listen, Sakura-chan, I understand that you'll get better but I can't in good conscience hold off on going after Sasuke until you're ready."

Sakura stared at him in silent fury for a moment before spinning around and marching from the room.

"I'm sorry, Sakura-chan; you know I love you but this time Sasuke has to come first!" Naruto called after her.

Sakura stopped when she saw Ino and Shikamaru arguing right outside of Choji's hospital room.

"Come on, Shikamaru! Asuma-sensei said we needed to train," Ino told him, tugging at his arm. "So let's train. I'm sick of just sitting around, anyway."

"I am going to train," Shikamaru replied languidly.

"Great!" Ino broke into a grin. "Then let's-"

"With Choji," Shikamaru interrupted.

"With…Choji?" Ino blinked. "Shikamaru, he regained consciousness barely two hours ago; he's in no shape to train!"

"I'm sorry, which one of us is the Chuunin?" Shikamaru inquired politely.

"God knows how that happened…" Ino muttered.

"Be that as it may, the fact that I got promoted means that clearly I'm in a better position to understand whether or not Choji is in a position to train with me," Shikamaru said patiently.

"You know what? Fine!" Ino snapped, storming off. As she passed Sakura, she grabbed her arm, "Come on Sakura, let's go."

Shikamaru watched them go for a moment and then shook his head and entered Choji's room.

"Hey, Shikamaru," Choji greeted him weakly. "Where did Ino go?"

"I don't know, she's being troublesome again," Shikamaru said mournfully. "Do you mind if I take a nap in here?"

"Not at all," Choji assured him. "My hospital room chair is your hospital room chair."

"If anyone asks, we're doing intense – but not too intense for your condition or my personality – Chuunin training," Shikamaru instructed.

"Of course," Choji agreed.

Ino, meanwhile, had calmed somewhat by the time she'd dragged Sakura all the way to the park. "Can you believe him? Laziest guy I know and he's the only one to make Chuunin. And he never appreciates me either, he always just wants to spend time with Choji!"

"I know what you mean," Sakura told her. "I told Naruto that I'd go after Sasuke with him when he recovered and we'd trained some more and he wasn't interested. He seemed to think my presence would only make things harder instead of easier."

"What?" Ino gasped. "That bastard! That's it: Kunoichi meeting!"

"Thank you all for coming to my last-minute Kunoichi meeting," Ino began some time later.

"You kind of dragged me here," Sakura pointed out.

"I-it was no problem, Ino," Hinata assured her. "I always have t-time for a f-fellow ninja."

Tenten shrugged. "Both of my teammates are in the hospital and Gai-sensei is holding a bedside vigil for Lee so I honestly didn't have anything better to do."

"That said, why are you here?" Ino asked the fifth member of the group.

"I was sparring with Tenten when I heard about your little get-together and since I'm a Kunoichi too I figured I might as well show up," Temari replied. "Why?"

"Well…" Ino looked a little awkward. "It's just…"

"It's because I'm from Suna, isn't it?" Temari demanded.

"I did kind of mean Konoha Kunoichi," Ino affirmed.

"Then you should have said so," Temari sniffed.

"So what's this about any way?" Sakura asked. "It's been driving me crazy all day."

"Right," Ino cleared her throat. "It has come to my attention that we are underappreciated and viewed as weak by our teammates and – since everyone assumes our teammates know us best – everyone else."

"B-but Ino," Hinata protested. "Kiba and Shino d-don't think I'm weak. They always m-make sure to encourage me and help me get stronger."

Tenten let out a startled laugh. "Neji may have once thought Lee was weak but he's getting past that. He's never called me weak and he's never been shy about letting everyone know exactly how strong or weak he views them as. Not to mention that Lee doesn't ever think anyone's weak and he thinks its 'unyouthful' whenever Neji used to make those judgments."

"Gaara might have thought like that in the past," Temari conceded. "But that was more due to him thinking everyone was weak than me personally and Kankuro always saw me as the other half of the only line of defense between Gaara and the rest of the world. Besides, ever since Gaara lost to Naruto, he's become far more appreciative of my abilities."

"Well I, for one, understand exactly where you're coming from," Sakura said loyally. "It's all well and good for Naruto to pretend to believe in me, but if he won't trust me with the important things like finding Sasuke then it really doesn't mean anything."

"Good to have you on board," Ino smiled at her friend.

"On board for what?" Tenten asked.

"Sakura and I are running away to join the Akatsuki!" Ino announced dramatically.

There was a stunned silence.

"…You think that your teammates think that you're so weak that you can't help them or train with them and yet you think an organization of S-class missing-nin would take you in?" Temari asked once she'd finally found her voice.

"Absolutely," Ino said seriously.

"But if they're criminals they'll be committing all sorts of heinous acts and even should they let you join, they'd make you participate," Tenten pointed out.

Sakura shrugged. "So? We could be asked to commit any number of heinous acts for the sake of our village if we're assigned a mission to do so."

"B-but they're after Naruto-kun," Hinata objected. "Surely you can't be okay with t-that?"

"Eh, Naruto can take care of himself," Ino said dismissively.

Sakura hesitated for a moment. "If I'm really as weak as he seems to think I am, my presence amongst the Akatsuki won't make a difference."

"You're really willing to abandon your village because you think your teammates aren't taking you seriously?" Temari still couldn't wrap her mind around it.

Ino and Sakura nodded seriously.

"Okay, this is just ridiculous. I'm leaving," Temari announced, standing up.

"Me too," Tenten said. "Come on, Hinata, we can go visit your cousin in the hospital."

"That sounds l-like a good idea," Hinata agreed.

"Think they'll actually do it?" Temari asked as they walked away.

"I don't think so," Tenten replied. "I mean, they may be slightly shallow, but they're really not THAT bad. Probably."

"I hope not," Hinata said earnestly. "I don't w-want Naruto-kun to lose another teammate."

Two weeks later found Ino and Sakura wandering around the edge of Fire Country.

"You know, I could have sworn the 'ask everyone about the Akatsuki and wait for that information to reach them' plan would have worked by now," Ino complained. "I mean, everyone always says that when you're making inquiries into the business of powerful people you need to be discreet or it will get back to them and we haven't been discreet but they apparently haven't gotten the message."

"Maybe the news hasn't travelled that far," Sakura suggested. "I mean, it's only been two weeks and there's really no guarantee they are even in Fire Country."

"We weren't, yeah," a voice said from behind them. "But since we're here now you may as well tell us why you're asking about us, yeah."

Sakura and Ino spun around to see a taller boy a few years older than them leaning against a tree. He had blonde hair pulled back in a high ponytail with his bangs covering his left eye and blue eyes. He was also, notably, wearing an Akatsuki cloak.

"We want to join the Akatsuki," Ino said boldly.

A harsh laugh sounded from behind them and Ino and Sakura turned again to see a man on all fours with a straw hat covering his head and adorned with an Akatsuki cloak. "What a foolish request. We don't take just anyone. Tell us why we should allow you to join our ranks?"

"Our teammates thought we were weak so we left and we want to show them that they were wrong about us," Sakura replied nervously.

"The Akatsuki isn't for those who want be strong, yeah," the blonde said dismissively. "It's for those that already are."

"And if you're so weak that your teammates want nothing to do with you, why should we?" the hunched over man demanded.

"That's what Temari said…" Sakura mused.

"I don't know who she is, but she has a point, yeah," the blond noted.

"But we want to help you!" Ino burst out. "Doesn't that count for anything?"

The man on the ground cocked his head contemplatively. "You know…it just might."

"You think we should tell Pein about how those girls were looking into us, yeah?" Deidara asked that night. "We're supposed to be a secret criminal organization, but they were off blabbering to everyone about us, yeah."

"I suppose so," Sasori agreed. "After all, that will give me an opportunity to show off my two new human puppets…"

Note: So that didn't go as planned and now Ino and Sakura are Sasori's human puppets. Konoha should realize this in a few years when they face him over Gaara. Seriously, though, what did they expect? The other girls couldn't go because no one in their right minds could possibly think of Temari as weak, Tenten was the only one trusted to help Neji train for the finals, and Hinata's Byakugan might secure her entrance.

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